Lege approves budget; school finance set for Sunday

The Senate and the House both gave final approval on Saturday to House Bill 1, the new state budget for 2012-2013, which cuts funding for the public schools by $4 billion. The budget totals $172.5 billion in state and federal funds and, overall, is a $15 billion, or 8 percent, reduction in spending, compared to the current biennium.

On Sunday, the next-to-last day of the session, both legislative bodies will vote on SB1811, which will include a method of distributing the $4 billion in education cuts among the state’s 1,000-plus school districts. Under a compromise between the House and the Senate, the first-year cuts will be across-the-board, averaging about 6 percent per district. Cuts in the second year will hit harder at wealthier districts.

Also expected to come to final votes in the House and the Senate on Sunday is House Bill 6, the instructional allotment bill that was amended in the Senate to include, among other things, a provision allowing the State Board of Education to approve as many as 10 new charter school applications a year. The House sent that bill to conference committee in an effort to remove the charter provision.

The Senate approved House Bill 1, the new state budget, 20-11, with Democratic Sen. Juan Hinojosa joining all the Republican senators in voting for it. All the other Democrats voted against it.

The bill was approved in the House, 97-53. Only five Republicans – Reps. Van Taylor, Will Hartnett, Aaron Pena, David Simpson and Raul Torres – voted against it, and only one Democrat, Rep. Craig Eiland, voted for it.

As TSTA President Rita Haecker pointed out in a statement to the media on Thursday, House Bill 1 is the worst Texas budget for public education in 27 years. It is the first budget since 1984-85, according to the Legislative Budget Board, that doesn’t fully fund school finance formulas and account for anticipated enrollment growth. Another 170,000 children are expected to enter Texas’ public schools over the next two years. And, in writing it, the Legislature left $6 billion unspent in the emergency Rainy Day Fund.

The session must adjourn by midnight Monday, and the last day is supposed to be reserved for technical cleanups to bills. But rules can be suspended, and substantive business can be conducted on the last day.

One major piece of non-educational, unfinished business is new legislation covering windstorm insurance, an important issue for coastal residents during hurricane season. Gov. Perry has threatened to call a special session this summer if that issue isn’t resolved by Monday. Another possible special session issue is congressional redistricting, which the Legislature failed to do.

In other developments on Saturday, the Senate approved conference committee reports on the following bills:

House Bill 1335 by Rep Allen, requiring that each school district develops a process, to be used by teachers who instruct students with disabilities in a regular classroom setting, to request a review of a student’s individualized education program, provides for a timely district response to a teacher’s request, and provides notification to the student’s parent of that response.

House Bill 1286 by Rep. Howard, prohibiting the legislative council of the University Interscholastic League from taking final action on a new or amended rule that would result in additional costs for a member school, unless a fiscal impact statement regarding the rule has been completed.

Click here for the fiscal analysis of SB 1811 including the runs for each school district starting on about page 8.